August has been unkind.
A sputtering home performance against Sporting KC resulted in a 1-3 defeat, while an equally lifeless road game in New York against the Red Bulls saw TFC fall by a similar scoreline – minus the goal for.
But those games are now in the past and with eight of their remaining eleven fixtures set to be played at BMO Field, it is home form that will be decisive in how this season plays out.
The club is well-poised, still hovering amongst the playoff places – currently in fifth on 31 points – with games in hand both on clubs above and below; Montreal being their only challengers – the Impact have two games in hand on TFC after their Champions League postponements.
Recent performances may indeed have left a lot to be desired, but with Saturday's match a refrain of the mesmerizing encounter that kicked off the month, points at a premium, and the annual CNE festivities set to kick off, a win, or more importantly, a strong performance, as the decadent smells waft from the adjacent and aptly-named Food Building, could not come at a better time.
It has been a mere two and a half weeks since The Lions were last in town, much of what was written then holds true, but still a closer look at this weekend's opponent, Orlando City SC is in order.
Orlando, like Toronto, has played two matches since that early August encounter.
Their midweek loss that day was followed up by a scoreless draw in Philadelphia, taking some pride in keeping their first clean-sheet in nine matches, even if it came with the sacrifice of offence.
Sebastian Le Toux struck the base of the post on a break and Tally Hall was forced into a pair of sharp saves – pushing a Cristian Maidana effort over and coming up big on Richie Marquez at the death to preserve the point.
Considering they had conceded fourteen goals in their previous four matches, a zero begins to look pretty good.
But that all came crashing down this past weekend, when Orlando travelled all the way to Seattle, only to be shelled in a 4-0 defeat, the Sounders snapping a five-match losing streak in the most emphatic of manners.
Fit-again Obafemi Martins grabbed the first in the 17th minute, scything easily through the middle via a one-two with Lamar Neagle before slotting past Hall.
A pair of silly booking for Tyler Turner saw the young defender dismissed after 41 minutes and following the restart, Nelson Valdez scored on his debut, rising up to meet an Erik Friberg cross with a flicked header.
Martins completed his brace in the 62nd minute when a half-clearance rebounded off Andy Rose to fall behind the Orlando back-line, the Nigerian reacting quickest to touch over Hall then walk the ball across the line.
And Thomas, the latest in a line of normal-named Brazilians, added the coup de grace in the 92nd minute, bringing down a long ball from another addition, centre-back Roman Torres, before slotting a low shot into the bottom corner.
It could have been worse, had Hall not saved a penalty kick in the first half.
Orlando enter Saturday's match with a single win in their last eight matches, having allowed eight goals through their last three, scoring just once. They currently sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference on 28 points from 25 matches.
August 5 Toronto 4: Orlando City 1
Toronto extended their dominance over expansion Orlando with a second win of the season, thanks largely to a scintillating performance from Sebastian Giovinco.
Giovinco kicked started the festivities in the 12th minute, converting from the penalty spot after enticing Aurelien Collin into a rash challenge.
Luke Boden would respond for the visitors five minutes later, sweeping a left-footer to the top-left corner of goal. Joe Bendik got a piece, but could not prevent it finding the back of the net.
But Giovinco would reinstate the lead in the 56th minute with a glorious free-kick from 30 yards, rooting Hall to his spot, banking his effort in off the left-post having cleared the wall, while Collen Warner netted the third in the 81st minute, heading in a Jonathan Osorio cross off his own foot from a short corner.
Giovinco would cap his night by completing a hat-trick, racing onto a Benoit Cheyrou long pass, backing off Collin down the left and kissing his finish off the far-post, completing his set.
Toronto won the initial meetings between the clubs 0-2 in Orlando on a Jozy Altidore brace.
Expansion seasons are always difficult prospects.
Orlando has navigated theirs extremely well, but have fallen prey to those twin stalkers of success: injury and discipline.
Heading into Saturday they have two players suspended – influential midfielder Darwin Ceren and young emergency-defender Tyler Turner, who was sent off in Seattle.
Ceren picked up his fifth booking of the season, so would have been out due to yellow card accumulation, but was penalized by the Disciplinary Committee for the infraction – a whack to the face of Friberg. At the moment, it is unclear if the booking was erased and upgraded or added to; either way, he will not be available on Saturday.
Discipline has been an issue all season – Turner's red card was the club's seventh, all from different players – from the opening day diving to five penalty kicks conceded.
Worse than that is the horrendous spat of injuries.
They currently have six players listed as 'out', including a pair of season-enders. To illustrate the affliction, consider that case of Conor Donovan, Orlando's other pick in the SuperDraft, selected 22nd overall.
Donovan, a 20-year old defender, was forced into action against Philadelphia, making his debut, only to leave with a devastating knee injury (torn ACL) following a tangled-collision with CJ Sapong.
He joins Kevin Molino on the sidelines, he also did his ACL, his occurring in a mid-season friendly, while Tony Cascio has been unavailable for the majority of the year with back problems. Brek Shea needed hernia surgery, though he should return, while Harrison Heath, another young defender, injured his knee mid-July and is sidelined for a few more weeks.
The fiery full-back Rafael Ramos is also on the list, though his thigh strain is a minor concern compared to the others.
It appears as though some of those bodies – Cascio, Shea, Heath, and Ramos – are back in training, with only Ramos a possibility to feature this weekend.
Given all that turmoil, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what Adrian Heath will trot out on Saturday.
He does have some reinforcements at his disposal, both Adrian Winter a Swiss attacking midfielder and Spanish defender David Mateos have made debuts and are candidates to start.
Their projected lineup is as follows: Tally Hall in goal; from right to left – Corey Ashe, Aurelien Collin, Seb Hines, and Luke Boden across the back; Servando Carrasco and Cristian Higuita holding with Adrian Winter, Kaka, and Carlos Rivas further afield; Cyle Larin will top the formation.
There are, of course, plenty of possible alterations.
Mateos did not look great in Seattle, and Hines has the added advantage of having faced Giovinco and company recently, so he gets the nod. Ashe is usually a left-back, but swapping him over allows Boden to take up his natural side. Eric Avila and Lewis Neal could do at right-back in a pinch, though both are technically wide midfielders.
And just to further complicate matters, Heath could opt to field Collin, Hines, and Mateos in a three-man back-line – international call-ups forced such a decision earlier this season against Montreal. Orlando fielded something akin to a 4-1-4-1 in the last meeting following Kaka's surprise absence, so it is tough to be definitive in how they will approach the match.
Rivas has looked lively in recent substitute performances and Bryan Rochez has found minutes few and far between. Avila and Neal are sturdy, but my lack the breakaway speed Orlando likes in those wide spots, especially on the left.
Then there is Pedro Ribeiro and the recently-acquired Adam Bedell (formerly of Columbus), big targets up top; Ribeiro has also featured in the middle.
A general point before getting into some specifics is that whenever two teams meet twice in such close proximity, there is the potential for the brewing of bad blood. Orlando was not happy with how the last match played out and have aggrandized a harmless quote from Giovinco into supposed 'bulletin-board material'.
Add in the confrontation between Cheyrou and Carrasco, the Hines challenge on Giovinco, and the way the Italian danced past Collin, and there is the potential for some additional physicality to creep into the game. Toronto will need to stay disciplined out there; Orlando may not be able to.
The primary concern heading into the match comes in two forms: Larin and Kaka.
Larin has been exceptional this season, sitting on the cusp of a new rookie record for MLS goals in a debut season and has a firm grip on the Rookie of the Year award.
Had he burnt Toronto in his early chance, that last meeting could have been very different.
He can threaten in any number of ways, he's strong in the air, but it is with space ahead of him that he perhaps most dangerous – that, or when the ball is out wide and he can pick his run at goal.
That early chance was crafted by a long ball out of the back from Ashe, a moment of hesitation from Damien Perquis allowed Larin in on goal. Were it not for a fine save from Bendik and the recovering defenders – it was Ahmed Kantari who blocked the follow-up – Toronto would have fallen behind early:
With Orlando on the road, expect them to sit tight and look to spring those same sorts of attack. Toronto needs to mark Larin, track his movement and not let him turn the corner to move at goal.
Should Toronto succeed at muddling up the quick breaks, Kaka steps in to craft the next threat: his ability to play in tight spaces. He may well be the best in the league at ghosting past a defender or three.
Just look at how he glides through a crowd of Union defenders to find Larin, setting him up for a quick shot from the top of the box:
Even without Kaka, Orlando were able to cause some trouble in the last meeting, Ceren slotting a ball forward to Higuita, who in turn found Boden in the middle to score.
In terms of how Toronto should look to get at their opponents, another quick look back to the last match gives a hint. Cheyrou was able, with a ball straight up the middle, to pick out the run of Giovinco. Hall came up with a huge save, but the lane was as clear and wide as day.
Orlando has been shown to have a soft centre in recent weeks.
Two of Seattle's goals were directly down the gut and a third was nearly the same. Thomas was allowed to bring down a ball, step away from some mild pressure to score the fourth, but Martins' strike to open the scoring far too easy.
It was some excellent play – Friberg forcing a turnover before Martins' one-two with Neagle to get in – but no defence can be happy with allowing an opponent to by-pass them without a scratch:
A similar flaw was exposed against Philadelphia, nearly leading to a goal when Tranquillo Barnetta was able to slip Sebastian Le Toux in down the left-channel with a simple ball:
That is exactly the sort of move that Toronto is crying out for with either Giovinco or Altidore getting on the end of passes from the likes of Cheyrou, Michael Bradley, Osorio, or Giovinco himself.
One final note: Should Mateos be fielded, he should be targeted mercilessly. He looked very out of step against Seattle, pulling up a little on the Friberg goal, giving up his chase with a twinge, while conceding one of the most obvious penalties of the year, wrapping up Chad Marshall with a bear-hug.
The spot kick was saved by Hall, but adding in that Toronto won one in the last match and had another two shouts. Collin and Hines, as well as Mateos, are ripe for lunging in early. Put them under pressure.
This is the final meeting of the regular season between the two clubs. Toronto has won both previously, but Orlando has a way of hitting their stride on the third try, finally getting wins against DC and Columbus at the third time of asking.